Singer-songwriter Jimmy Lee Young grew up in New Orleans, the so-called “birthplace of jazz” and a natural magnet for the state’s cajun and creole sounds. His mother had familial roots in the Maya Civilization of Honduras and his father’s ancestors were Wayuu people of Columbia.
Despite the prevalence in his life of all these potential influences, Young grew up most loving American rock music of the 1960s and ’70s.
“Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, The Byrds, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles,” Young said in a phone interview.
All these cultural and musical tendrils will come together when Young and his band perform at the main branch of the Allen County Public Library on Saturday, March 30.
Growing up in the Air Force
Young said his parents weren’t too thrilled about his musical aspirations.
“They were horrified,” Young said. “My poor parents. I worked hard in school. I worked a little part-time job. I was just one of those independent kids. And because I was good in science, they thought I was going to be a doctor. But inside, I was thinking, ‘I am going to be famous!’”
Young’s father warned him that “singers just end up singing in cabarets.”
“I was like, ‘That’s my aspiration!’” he said, laughing. “What he was desperately afraid of, I was clutching at.”
But Young wasn’t an impractical kid. He knew he wasn’t ready to leap into music. He joined the Air Force as a way of getting his life together and earning college assistance. Young said the Air Force helped his songwriting, ultimately.
“Until I was in my twenties, I couldn’t seem to write anything you’d call a song,” he said. “I believe it was a matter of maturity. What does a teenager write about? Teenage things. What does an adult write about? Adult things. When I left the military, (my songwriting) went rampant.”
The Air Force also introduced Young to one of his lifetime collaborators: Gil Gabaldon.
“He had played drums once in his life and I was like, ‘Well, it looks like you’re on drums,’” Young said.
Every young artist longs for a mentor or two and Young found a doozy: Daryl Dragon, one-half of The Captain and Tennille and former member of The Beach Boys.
How it happened was that a friend of a friend gushed about Young’s music after a show one night and offered to introduce him to his godfather: Mr. Dragon.
“He got me Darryl Dragon’s phone number and I called Darryl Dragon,” Young said. “He helped me get my publishing together and get started doing online publicity. And one day he said, ‘Find radio stations that will play your song, “Apache.” I really like that track.’
“For a couple of years, it was every single night,” he said of his correspondence with Dragon. “I had more guidance from Darryl than Toni (Tennille) did. He loved it. He was like ‘Go! Go! Go!’ I used to print out emails with the intention of framing them. I wasn’t really a tech guy.”
Young’s second album was produced by Dennis Dragon, Darryl’s brother.
Thanks to Dragon’s encouragement and guidance, Young entered the Native American Music Awards and earned his first nomination.
Young has since won many Native American Music Awards and L.A. Music Awards and was a finalist for Grammy consideration, but was not ultimately chosen as one of the five nominees in the “Song of the Year” category.
“I recently redid my bio and the award list just goes on and on and on,” he said. “Now I just need to win that Grammy and complete the set.”
Proud of who he is
Young’s father died in 1991, many years before his musical career got off the ground. But Young did fly his mother around to various awards ceremonies until she told him that she was getting too old for that sort of thing.
She got a chance to see that her initial fears about her son’s aspirations were unfounded.
“When I was a kid, Janis Joplin died,” Young said. “There were a lot of drugs in the industry and it was that side of things that worried my parents. My parents were traditional.”
Young said his parents were “freaked out” by the long hair on hippies, which was odd because they weren’t freaked out by long hair on native Americans.
“Hippie long hair looked like some sort of breakdown in society to them,” he said.
In Young’s home growing up, native traditions were observed. But Young’s dad was not eager for him to display those traditions in the public sphere.
“When I was a kid, he’d say, ‘Don’t tell people you’re native American. They’ll call you a savage.”
Later, however, his thoughts on these matters seemed to have evolved. Young’s parents accompanied him to his first Air Force assignment and Young bought them arrowheads on a stop along an Arizona road.
“My father looked at this in his hand and said, ‘Always be proud of who you are.’”
Clearly, Young took this advice to heart.
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